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[Editorial] Labor reform bills

Legislators should respect tripartite accord

The National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee has started deliberations on the five labor reform bills. For the deliberations to be productive, lawmakers on the committee are strongly advised to respect the landmark Sept. 15 agreement among labor, management and the government.

This advice applies especially to the ruling Saenuri Party members of the parliamentary committee as they are determined to push the five government-proposed bills en bloc through the Assembly during the ongoing session, which ends Dec. 9.

Rep. Kwon Sung-dong, leader of the Saenuri legislators on the committee, said Friday all five bills should be passed together because they “are like wheel cogs engaging with each other.” He made the remark after meeting with officials of the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

The ruling party’s move, however, is ill conceived because two of the five bills -- one on fixed-term workers and the other on temporary agency workers -- are not based on the Sept. 15 agreement and are, therefore, opposed by labor groups.

The Labor Ministry submitted the two bills, along with the other three, to the Assembly on Sept. 16, just one day after the tripartite agreement was concluded. It did not have the patience to wait for the participants in the tripartite dialogue to sort out the issues related to the two types of workers.

The ministry’s rush angered the Federation of Korea Trade Unions, an umbrella labor organization that represented labor in the social dialogue. It criticized the government for undermining the spirit of concession and compromise underlying the milestone deal.

The FKTU was not alone in warning against the government’s imprudent behavior. Kim Dae-hwan, chairman of the Economic and Social Development Commission who presided over the tripartite discussions, also warned that failure to respect the Sept. 15 grand compromise would jeopardize reform efforts.

On the day when Saenuri lawmakers discussed their strategy with Labor Ministry officials, FKTU leader Kim Dong-man called on the government to scrap the five bills altogether, threatening to withdraw from the tripartite talks.

Kim’s demand was obviously unreasonable, given that three of the five bills reflected the Sept. 15 agreement. But his call to respect the historic agreement deserved to be heeded.

His message, however, failed to reach Rep. Kwon, who justified the party’s stance by stressing that “it is lawmakers who have the power to make law.”

There is no denying that the legislative power belongs to lawmakers. But when it comes to labor issues, legislators need to acknowledge the value of the deal reached between the government and social partners.

If lawmakers disregard the historic tripartite agreement, there is no need to operate the Tripartite Committee and encourage dialogue between social partners in the first place.

The ruling party’s plan to pass the five bills at once is not only imprudent, but unrealistic, given that the opposition members of the parliamentary committee have no incentive to pass the bills that labor groups vehemently oppose.

Under these circumstances, Saenuri legislators are advised to focus on passing the three bills that accommodate the Sept. 15 agreement. For the two other bills, they may as well wait for the participants in the tripartite talks to sort out the unresolved issues. This will take time, but it is the best option. They need to remember that haste makes waste.
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